They Wouldn’t Let Us See Our Children

Just because we’re done with #50cases that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop translating key human rights stories into plain-English stories. Starting today, and continuing for the next two weeks, we’re translating 10 important cases about children’s rights.

If you were told by the state that you would not be able to see your children again, you would want a way of questioning that decision and arguing against it. Indeed, being able to take part in decisions which affect us and our rights is something that we would all hope for, especially on an issue as important as that. But a couple were excluded from exactly that decision, which concerned five of their children.

Following worries about the children’s welfare while they were living with their parents, a local authority took them into care.  The parents visited their children once a week at first but then only rarely once they had been taken in by foster families.  When the parents asked for permission to see their children more often, the local authority held a conference to review the children’s case but did not tell the parents about it.

Soon after that review, the parents received a letter which explained that they were no longer allowed to contact their children at all.  Distraught that this decision had been made and that they had had no chance to make any arguments against it at a hearing, the parents tried to have the decision looked at again.  But rather than a fair trial, what they found was a hole in English law, which meant that there was no way that they could get that decision reconsidered.

This was 1986 and as the Human Rights Act, which brings the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights into English law and English courts, would not be passed for another decade, the only option that the parents had was to apply directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The 17 judges (which included the UK’s representative) all agreed that the parents’ right to a fair trial had been breached and that the decision which was taken without the parents should be reviewable by a Tribunal.

The importance of some of the rights contained in the Human Rights Act is not always immediately clear, but this case shows the terrible positions that normal people can find themselves stuck in without them.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here